Monday, August 15, 2005

Media Reporting on Social Issues

I was thinking of the news last week that Peter Jennings died of lung cancer and Dana Reeve has breast cancer. I don't know why anyone would care about some celebrity's health problems, but that is a subject for another blog entry. The subject for this blog entry is how the media manipulates our perceptions, and why they do it.

In the case of cancer, I'm in favor fo any effort to get people to do something to protect themselves. But there is something insidious about the way media accounts focus on problems. This problem may undermine our ability, as a society, to effectively mobilize our resources against real threats to society and to the individual.

The problem is that the media tend to sensationalize the instinctively terrifying but unlikely.

Other threats to our health, safety, and prosperity are also threats but don't have the eame emotional appeal. Climbing consumer debt is a problem how, for what? Yawn! Religious fundamentalism may undermine our ability to innovate? Who cares? Corporate misbehavior of the illegal or unethical variety is objectively worse than ever? Ugh, I'd rather watch Entertainment Tonight.

(A brief aside: Unlike some liberal wackos I do not sense a capitalist consipiracy to distract us from issues like income inequality through the production and promotion of mindless but stimulating entertainment products, "bread and circuses" to use a more poetic term.)

No, I'm not saying people are lazy or stupid for not paying attention to those things. I'm saying that media types are lazy and manipulative (in pursuit of profits). Making a threat to your children into a show or a special report is much easier than making interesting programming on the potential dangers of a celebrity-obsessed culture. I'll return to each of those topics in future blogs.


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